The Deal Mommy

Lessons Learned from Remodeling Week 2: Downside Roulette and 29 pounds of Hotel Soap

Welcome to my Lessons learned from remodeling journal. I thought it would be fun and instructive to share our remodeling journey week by week. I hope you can learn from what we do right- and more importantly from what we mess up!

What felt like a lot of work over the past week and change has signified nothing. There’s still no progress on the permit and we still don’t have a main contractor hired after 12 interviews. 

Lessons learned from remodeling: Downside Roulette

The main problem is that every contractor has one glaring downside and we have to decide which downside is the easiest to accept. 

  • Kidney guy is supposed to get me a quote today. Absent selling a body part his firm has no downsides. (Update: the quote came in and it’s more like a kidney plus a spleen.)
  • Firm B (we’ll call him Busy guy) we liked quite a bit. He has an A on Angie’s list and even offered us a fifteen percent discount. The quote he gave us was within the realm of reality even before the discount. He owns his own crews who have worked with him for years- one is even father and son. His downside? He can’t start till February and told us our project would take 13 weeks when everyone else is quoting 6-8. 
  • Contender C (we’ll call him Loosey Goosey) was recommend by a friend. We knew he was more of a handyman than a general contractor.  However, we didn’t realize exactly how casual an arrangement that would entail until he showed up to our house with a friend. The friend, who was a carpenter (I think?) then would subcontract out a plumber and electrician. Of course this is a lot less money, but also sends the potential for screwups skyward. 

If you had to pick: would you go with either, keep looking or look into dialysis? 

Lessons learned from remodeling: 29 Pounds of Hotel Soap is an upside?

Well, no and yes. No, because I’m embarrassed to admit that I found 29 pounds of excess hotel soap lying around the house. Yes, because it is outta here, along with three carloads of other various junk. With the Pod arriving on Thursday I’m trying to empty out shelving so I can get it into the unit. I have a rule- nothing goes into the Pod unless we know where it’s going post remodel. 

The kids are home for the next two weeks which makes getting anything done that much more challenging. 

Santa Baby, stick a permit under the tree for me…

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Lessons learned from remodeling week 2: 29 pounds of hotel soap.


24 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Remodeling Week 2: Downside Roulette and 29 pounds of Hotel Soap

      1. Elaine

        I know it is a lot to read, but every hour I spent learning about the importance of layout, and drawers, was worth it. Many kitchens are terribly designed, and people just don’t realize how much easier and more pleasant cooking can be in a well planned space. The remodel process is going to take longer, be more difficult, and more expensive than you can currently imagine. The more work you do in advance the happier you’ll be with the final result. Good luck!

  1. Tim

    B I repeat B
    Literally completed a 2 beathroom reno this week. Horrible experience to live through.
    Started interviewing in January. Signed contracts in March. Got all required permits in July and started August 11.
    This was supposed to be a 6-8 week job. No real reason other than getting inspections etc completed and some pitiful scheduling by the contractor.
    If his price really is fair and you want the best job done then go with the experienced crew. You’ll be pleased (eventually) that you did.
    As a bonus we did take a 2 week vacation to HKG and Thailand to avoid the dust and it did make a small dent in enabling the re qualify for Hyatt Diamond lol.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      I just realized that you’re saying it took a full year. Shoot me now if my future holds “remodeling journal: week 52”.
      Thanks for the hard-earned advice.

  2. Debbie Feinberg

    I vote B. He sounds like he has his act together and it’s worth the wait. Especially with the permitting issue, you might not be ready to go until then anyway.

  3. konorth

    Donate the hotel soaps to the local women shelter, Goodwill Inn or homeless shelter. I just dropped of a large cache myself. It will be put to good use and its a tax deduction.

  4. MickiSue

    B. B. B. He may even be right on the timeline, although it could be longer, just so you know…

    We’re going with the supervisor for a large kidney plus spleen contractor, who moonlights (he’s a carpenter) with various other employees of the contractor. The electrician is his wife’s brother. A painter is his cousin. But we had our retaining wall built by his brothers, and their crew, and they did a beautiful job for a reasonable price.

    We know, going in, that it’ll take longer than the big shots. But also? Much less. We’re buying the materials, they’re providing the expertise at what we need and the skilled labor.

    Finally we’ll have our kitchen and bathrooms out of 1999. All I asked was that AMAP be done before the offspring arrive this summer. Luckily, in our suburb, permits take about a week, two if you are really unlucky.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      If there were a piece we could leave off, I would go with kidney plus spleen for a piece and put off the rest. Unfortunately the bathroom is 1956 and the kitchen is 1986. Both are getting desperate.

  5. Trevor

    I haven’t done such a job, but I think the answer is A or B. I tend to think, the good stuff is worth the wait, so go with Busy.. He may very well be underpromising so he can over deliver.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      I’ve pretty much mentally crossed off C, at least for the big stuff. There are few pieces around the margins I might be able to use his talents for- but major projects need more oversight.

  6. Lynda

    I did a renovation a number of years ago, and it was delivered early and on budget with work as described or better.

    A big key to this success was asking to see work that the contractors had done for other clients. If the contractor is proud of their work, this request should not be a problem.

    Another key to this success was having an attorney look at the contract for the work. Although this may seem like an excessive expense, wise counsel when I was dealing with my beloved home, kitchen and bathroom ended up being very valuable.

    One of the recommendations from the attorney was that there be some sort of penalty (financial) if the contractor didn’t adhere to the contract, I E if they were late or over budget.

    In return, I was willing to add a little bit of time and money to give them wiggle room.

    If a contractor does quality work, they should not have any issues with either of these recommendations.

    I’dalso check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the contractors you’re considering have any complaints against them, and how they were handled.

    Before committing to a contractor, I strongly recommend you consider these 3 steps.

    Finally, while I understand how desperately you want to renovate, it sounds like your kitchen and bathroom DO work now. If the contractor is less than competent, this will not be the case and you’ll be worse off than you are now.

    Would you consider having optional surgery with a doctor you didn’t completely trust? Or book a trip with someone you didn’t completely trust? I think this is true of a contractor as well…

    Over the years, the information you’ve provided through your blogs has been invaluable. Hope this information is helpful to you as well.

  7. Dalo

    I am retired from decades of construction . Damn good advice from Lynda .
    Without meeting them Mr. B sounds best . A busy contractor is often like a restaurant with a long line on the sidewalk . Try to talk to a few customers to be sure his projects are completed .
    A crew with experience working together can also be a big advantage . If they just start working without needing much discussion that’s a good sign .
    Good Luck !
    Ohh , and decide before , don’t make changes after the work has started if possible . If the customer can not make up their mind it will cost plenty .

  8. Maria Sangria

    A lot of what Lynda said is great advice. I do fix and flips, and am about to start a large reno/addition on my own personal residence. I have my own contract that I draft up after I get the contractor’s quote. I also have a financial penalty of $100 a day for each day past the deadline (their is a little buffer built in), and a bonus if the job is finished early. Win-win.

    Ask a lot of questions, like do you have your own tools, do you have a truck, do you have a smart phone (you want proof-of-life photos of the work each day), etc. I ask for references and examples of current work that I can go look at. I get a copy of their DL and a filled in W9.I would also recommend Googling the contractor’s name with mug shot after it. You may surprised what you find. You’ll want someone that shows up and is accountable, and pays his subs. Set expectations up front. I’d like a call/discussion of what your goals are for the day and a progress report at the end of the day (photos, etc).

    You can also try out people on smaller projects and see how they do first before hiring on for a large job. I know that you’re full on into this already. You can put an ad on craigslist under Gigs and state exactly what you want and how much you’re willing to pay. Screen them with qualifying questions, etc.

    The more defined your scope of work, the more precise your price will be. Otherwise if your vision doesn’t match what the contractor has in mind, you’re dealing with a change order and blowing your budget. There are plenty of online sites to look to for cost estimating. The Book on Estimating Rehab Costs by J Scott is a great book for estimating costs. Try to figure our sequencing of the the work and if you need lead time for some things like ordering, permits, etc.

    Good luck!

    1. Maria Sangria

      And after work is complete, I also have the contractor fill out a lien release before I pay them.

      EDIT: there is a buffer… (dumb autocorrect)

    2. thedealmommy Post author

      Great advice, particularly about background checking and defining scope. Both of those were very helpful in choosing who not to hire!

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